Tuesday, April 3, 2012

More fun with Photoshop

Some MayDay artwork

Monday, February 20, 2012

ALEC Legislators

Dear Oregon legislator,

It has come to our attention that you have a well-documented and ongoing association with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC and its funders work to overwhelm the democratic process in the State of Oregon.

ALEC, as you are well aware, is a “membership” organization that receives the tax benefits of a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. In practice, ALEC has been effective at pushing its corporate-designed political and economic agenda on state legislatures through willing conduits such as yourself. This anti-environment, anti-labor, anti-affordable-healthcare agenda is contrary to the interests of the general public. Though ALEC is not technically a lobbying organization, and so escapes ethics laws that would otherwise apply, it is clear that the goals of the organization are to bring legislators into intimate contact with corporate representatives who operate on behalf the wealthiest and most privileged Americans. Though ALEC may not lobby directly and its activities may be allowed in the legal sense, your continued participation in this secretive organization is an offense to the State of Oregon as it makes a mockery of the spirit of our open and transparent system of government.

Despite any nice sounding awards or personal perks a relationship with this organization may provide, your association is inappropriate because it diverts your attentions away from the interests of most of the people you are supposed to represent. You cannot serve two masters. Rather than hobnobbing at ALEC events, why not try spending time with low income families who are struggling to make ends meet? Why not talk to some of the homeless in your own town? Why not visit an emergency room where people are desperate for medical care they can't afford? Such associations would give you a better understanding of problems in Oregon that could allow you to conceive of real solutions, rather than just advancing some corporation's agenda. Simply put, where you spend your time and with whom you associate is an important factor in deciding whose interests you will legislate. You are associating with the wrong people.

For an elected legislator to submit model legislation, pre-written in secret by members of ALEC and subject to the approval of their corporate sponsors, is a horrifying dereliction of duty. You were not elected so that you could act as a funnel to transfer the wish list of corporate America into the legislature. Your constituents expect that you will be drafting legislation in their interests, not simply cutting and pasting the desired laws of America’s most privileged people. That you have failed to identify ALEC as the source of model legislation in the past is contemptible. If your goal is simply to be a tool of corporate America, at least have the decency to do it in the open. We demand that you cease this practice immediately and recommit yourself to transparency in government. The public has grown tired of the corrupting influence of special interests and will no longer tolerate it.

We demand that you publicly withdraw from ALEC, return any awards or commendations you may have received in the past, and reimburse the state for any state funds you have used to attend their events or advance their agenda. Further, we demand that you stop accepting campaign contributions from ALEC members or their executives and return any such campaign contributions previously received. Failure to disassociate yourself with ALEC will be a serious electoral liability and source of personal shame as we continue the campaign to educate Oregonians about this subversive organization.


The 99%

Saturday, January 28, 2012




I spent three years of my life at the University of Oregon School of Law painfully internalizing the finer details of the tortured pro-corporate / anti-human tripe that passes for judicial legal reasoning in the Supreme Court. Outside of some significant decisions during the Civil Rights Era, I believe that the Court has been given a largely undeserved reputation for being a great protector of civil rights. And in my lifetime, it has been not much more than a haven for radical free-market ideologues who will subvert the meaning of any otherwise-decent doctrine for the benefit of big business or political friends. At least since Bush v. Gore fully revealed the cynical, ideological, and cronyist nature of a majority of this institution’s members, the legitimacy of the Supreme Court has been in steady decline as far right wing opinions and conflict of interest scandals have been the new norm. I only mention this to give a context for the amazing release of pent up emotion and sense of vindication I experienced when I, along with thousands of Occupy Congress comrades, stormed the steps of the Supreme Court to repudiate Citizens United at its source, with common sense reasoning so simple, clear, and full of force that even a Supreme Court Justice could understand. Apparently, this was the largest protest on the steps of the Supreme Court in a very long time (maybe ever), because, well… it’s illegal to do it. It is a memory that I will cherish for as long as I live.

(watch at 2:50 for the line)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

TEDx talk with slides!

Yay!  After some time, you don't just have to look at my ugly mug if you watch my TEDx talk.   Now, my slides are mixed in, so you can actually view the graphs I was referring to.

The Dual Evils of a Non-Republican Government

Today, the Portland City Council heard public comments regarding a proposed resolution, introduced by Mayor Sam Adams, repudiating the United States Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and supporting the efforts of members of the Oregon congressional delegation to redress its effects through Constitutional amendment.  Forgive Adams, for the moment, of his Janus-faced and almost bi-polar treatment of Occupy Portland – today, first holding a TV interview in the hallway where he blamed Occupy for the City’s inability to keep to its budget, before entering the assembly to praise an overflowing chamber full of (human) people who had gathered to support and strengthen the resolution – because this was a significant local step in a much larger fight to reclaim our government.

After a rally in front of City Hall, an enthusiastic crowd moved inside and completely filled the City Council’s chambers.  Following a brief introductory period, the Council heard testimony from Jeff Stookey, representing Move to Amend, and Donna Noonan, who both urged the council to officially reject the concept of corporate personhood in its entirety, not just in the case of campaign expenditures.  Noonan informed the Council that “we have your back” should they decide to press the envelope and insert stronger language into an amended resolution.  Throughout the testimony, the crowd held up green signs calling for a stronger resolution to be submitted to Portland citizens for a vote.  In an apt reflection of the citizenry’s strong feelings about reclaiming its government, people showed up in large numbers in support of these important reforms.

And while getting Congress to adopt some form of a declaration against unlimited corporate campaign spending and in support of a Constitutional Amendment to eliminate the personhood of corporations (and all the absurd rights that attend it) would undoubtedly be major steps in the battle to regain our republic, they are not enough.  Though Citizens United catapulted campaign finance into the national spotlight, it is but one of many chronic problems we must address.  For those familiar with Greek mythology, we face a multi-headed hydra of undue influence over government.  Lopping off one head will simply not suffice to defeat the beast.  In my estimation, a complete revocation of the human rights of corporations and reform of our elections is only the first half of the battle. 

The second of the dual evils of corporate-government collusion is the so-called revolving door of government, which includes direct lobbying and the soft parachuting of former government officials into the industries they were supposed to be regulating.  Over time a system has evolved in which legislators and staffers simply insert lobbyist-written operative and legally significant language into enormous bills where only interested parties know where to find it.  Sometimes lobbyists just write the entire bills and send the drafts to Congress.  These giant bills are rushed through Congress and rarely do any legislators read them; even if they had the desire, there’s simply not enough time to read everything.  For their acquiescence in this process, legislators and their staffers are rewarded with very high paying private-sector positions in the industries benefitting most from the legislative boost.  Amazingly, this is all legal as Congress gets to regulate itself on these matters. 

In one particularly sickening display, senior regulators at the SEC who are supposed to investigate and regulate financial institutions, have routinely stopped investigations, dropped cases against, or pushed for weak settlements with the financial behemoths that destroyed our economy, only to immediately accept positions with those same banks or the law firms that represent them.  This type of corruption is so efficient, it would not be wholly inappropriate to call it industrial.  And, these practices have been evolving so long without any oversight or effective public outrage that this has become the norm throughout the executive and legislative branches.  The collusion spans every industry; each having its go-to regulators and legislators. 

In such a system, the loyalties of our government officials do not belong to the people.  What should be public service in national government has become one big get rich quick scheme where words like “public interest” become almost meaningless.  True public servants are so isolated in this system as to be completely ineffective.  Even a single term in Congress, combined with the right lobbyist connections, can turn into a fortune.  There is little incentive for anyone involved to protect the interests of the public, which are often in conflict with those of industry.  Those with enough moral character to strongly oppose the revolving door and insist upon public interested governance, like former Senator Russ Feingold, stand to face a huge wave of moneyed opposition in a bid for re-election.  Since the better-funded candidates win elections upwards of 90% of the time, this is a huge problem.  Once one understands the logic of this system, it is easy to see why the public interest cannot possibly compete against corporate profits.

So, let’s be cognizant of the two related, but qualitatively different evils that plague our system.  It is one thing to be able to obtain some favors from your legislator with the promise of campaign cash.  It is quite another to have a multi-million dollar salary waiting for him or her upon departure from the legislature.  We need to fix both problems at the same time if we are to reform our system.

Right now, we have a window in which to press for these reforms.  Mayor Adams has given us a proposal to work with.  Let’s press the City Council to include a repudiation of both corporate personhood and revolving door politics.  And on Thursday, Jan. 12, at 2 PM, when the next public comment period opens up, let’s pack the chambers again, and this time, accompany our official message with a raucous, chanting crowd outside on the steps of City Hall. 

With Occupy Congress coming up on Jan. 17 and Occupy the Courts on Jan. 20 – the anniversary of the Citizens United decision –, those of us heading to Washington D.C. would love to have a finished resolution of sufficient force and scope to deliver to our federal government on behalf of the City of Portland.  We can join Los Angeles and New York in rejecting corporate personhood and do them one better by pointing out the other half of the problem, the god-damned revolving door.

Article IV, section 4 of our Constitution requires that the United States provide a republican form of government for its citizens.  No one really knows what that means, but we can be confident that it doesn’t mean a system where legalized bribery in the form of revolving door politics and unlimited campaign funding place the loyalties of our officials in the pockets of the highest bidders; invariably, the 1%.  Let’s seize the moment and wrest our government from the grips of the radical elements that have been in control for far too long.

To view the current version of the City’s resolution, please visit: http://www.portlandonline.com/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=377616

Sunday, December 25, 2011

An Ordinary Injustice (Averted)

Every once in a while, you get to witness firsthand the sterilized, mechanical, inhuman, and ultimately ordinary injustices of our system’s procedures.  On Friday, I received my latest exposure to this melancholy-inspiring fact of life by way of a trip to a property auction.

Every weekday at 10 and 11 AM around 25 foreclosed properties are auctioned off in a mind-numbingly slow and surprisingly unceremonious bidding process in a cramped corner on the steps of the Multnomah County Courthouse.   On Friday, this ritual included 6 people:  the “crier” or auctioneer, 4 individual buyers bidding on behalf of real-estate companies, and a curious pea-coated stranger with a notepad and a lot of questions.  Also present, outside on the sidewalk, was a small group of people who had come to the auction on short notice to support Angela Hill and her two children who are currently in the process of being removed from their home in SE Portland for defaulting on a mortgage owned by Wells Fargo.

The buyers told me that when they bid on homes, they are dealing directly with the banks and don’t interact with the prior homeowners who they believe to be already off of the property.  They seemed genuinely surprised to find that Angela was, in fact, still in the home.  As I explained the situation, including Angela’s contribution to her community -- including involvement in Groundwork Portland, the Emerson Street Garden, and the da Vinci School -- and why so many people had gathered to support her, it was immediately apparent from the pained facial reactions of the buyers that the human element was usually absent from these proceedings.  Similar to the lack of empathy a bombardier would feel for his unidentifiable victims while mechanically unloading bombs out of an airplane from a high altitude, the auction process is infinitely easier to stomach when those involved are spared the moral pangs of having to experience the personal sufferings of the individuals whose plight they are contributing to.  To use a generalization that encompasses the socially created barriers invented to take advantage of the symptoms of our intuitive psychological nature, otherwise moral human beings can hide behind illusions, weak rationalizations, and outright lies if the victim is unknowable, ignorable, or out of sight.  Here, the rationalization that the banks are the real enemy and that the people are out of the home before auction when added to the barking of bid orders from off-site authorities through earpieces are more than enough to overcome any moral qualms the buyers might have.  Had we not been there to tell Angela’s story, these buyers might have never even considered her situation – mechanical, repetitive, and boring as the auction process is. 

In practice, the auction usually works like this.  The buyers start by presenting certified checks and other proofs that they are bona-fide buyers.  All of the buyers have an idea of how much they are willing to spend on a property because their companies have done due diligence in valuing properties ahead of time.  Then, the crier recites a long legal document outlining the regulations of the process (largely ignored by the bidders who undoubtedly have heard it many times before).  After what seems like an eternity, the business of bidding begins.  The crier introduces a property by address, asks for a minimum bid, and the bidders best one another by adding anywhere from one to a hundred dollars until someone emerges victorious.  One of the buyers told me that the process sometimes can take hours for the purchase of a single property.  If a prior-determined reserve price isn’t met during the bidding process, the bank automatically buys the property back at the reserve price.  The buyers told me that they go through this ritual twice a day… five days a week… always without reference to the facts underlying a property’s transition from occupied to available.

Interestingly, these specific buyers had been exposed to “Occupiers” once before.  They reported to me that on one prior occasion, a group of people had come to the auction and physically disrupted it by shouting and shaming everyone involved.  Though they clearly understood the aims of the disruption, they found it annoying and distasteful to be personally accused of perpetrating evil.  Unsurprisingly, the buyers reported to me that they much preferred the civil conversation and discussion to the yelling and chanting.  And despite that bad experience, they still had sympathy for homeowners who had been victimized by deceptive and fraudulent lending practices, and were largely in agreement that the grievances of the Occupy movement were legitimate.  In addition, these buyers were eager to volunteer that large banks are enemies to the community.  Personally, I found these buyers to be very nice people and believe that they could be enlisted as allies in our larger struggles with banks if we are able to engage them in the correct way.  They belong to the 99% as much as anyone and have a wealth of experience in real estate transactions.  At the very least, we need to continue to learn from knowledgeable people to continue to improve our understanding of the system’s flaws so we can continue to develop creative ways of fixing it.

On that particular day, Angela’s home evaded purchase and title reverted back to Wells Fargo.  It’s hard to say if our gathering or my discussions with buyers had any effect on this eventuality or if the property was simply undesirable.  Regardless of the “real” answer, it is helpful for Angela that her dispute remains with Wells Fargo and not a third party.  Perhaps we can draw media attention to her plight and shame Wells Fargo into renegotiating her mortgage.  Only time will tell, but groups like We Are Oregon and Unsettle Portland – the actual organizers of this event – will continue to fight on behalf of families like Angela’s with innovative and effective actions to bring ordinary injustices to public light.

I hope that more and more people will continue to answer these calls – this time literally a Facebook message the night before – and show up to these sorts of events.  The gathering of people alone is enough to bring media to cover events and often sends companies like Wells Fargo into panic mode to remedy the bad press coverage as fast as possible.  In practice, this could be the difference between a family continuing to occupy a home or being out on the streets.  And, though protecting a single home may not have the star-appeal or significance of a revolutionary change, for Angela Hill and her family, it means the world.  Simply showing up and lending your body is sometimes enough to ensure that our community members have some protection against the systemic forces that can easily overwhelm an individual or family.  The collective talents of a small group really can stave off disaster and injustice. 

Even if we have to take it one person or family at a time, we can, from the ground up, create communities based in solidarity where people are protected and valued simply because they exist.  In effect, we are re-injecting humanity into the mechanical operations of our system.  This is progress.  And it is happening.